Edition 17 Volume 7 - May 07, 2009
The Durban II conference in Geneva
• How Ahmadinezhad helped Israel - Rasool Nafisi
"If Ahmadinezhad is not on the Israeli payroll, he should be".
• Undiplomatic, but substantially correct - Waleed Sadi
Practically all international treaty bodies are hypercritical of Israel's discriminatory policies and laws.
• A bitter and divisive farce - Hussein Solomon
A new structure is necessary to promote universal human rights norms.
• Arab peace or Durban war? - Gerald M. Steinberg
To demonstrate that the long period of de-legitimization of Israel has ended, the language of the Durban strategy must disappear.
How Ahmadinezhad helped Israel
The Durban Review Conference held in Geneva in April was set to examine progress made toward the goals of the previous conference in 2001: to eliminate racism, xenophobia and related intolerance. Many expected the conference would condemn Israel's attack on Gazan civilians, but what transpired was indeed the opposite. The resolution passed in Geneva helped Israel's stance by commemorating the Holocaust. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad had a lot to do with this outcome, albeit inadvertently.
The conference was filled with a sense of premonition even before it was convened. Ahmadinezhad's presence had made participants uneasy. Anticipating the worst, the gentle UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon summoned Ahmadinezhad before the conference started and censored the part of his speech about the Holocaust. Ahmadinezhad, however, was on the loose again and was going to try to own the conference. Struggling hard to demonstrate to the world that the emperor had no clothes, he attacked the West for being racist, with Israel, of course, at its pinnacle in this respect. EU representatives walked out in protest, and clowns threw tomatoes at him. The plucky president however didn't care. Representatives of the "oppressed nations" remained and applauded him, which is apparently what matters to him. Meanwhile the world, distracted by expressions of outrage, amazement and admiration for Ahmadinezhad's mix of bravado and insanity, lost sight of the purpose behind the conference.
The UN chief's statement summarized Ahmadinezhad's impact: "I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve." Most of the world, including Iran's staunch ally, Russia, found the speech deplorable and counterproductive. However, those who matter to Ahmadinezhad such as Hamas and Pakistani Muslim activists showed support.
Iranian television repeatedly aired footage of the applause by the third world delegates without a single reference to the walkouts or the clowns. Ahmadinezhad propagandists chose two different tactics to deal with the embarrassing event: painting the walkouts as a manifestation of the "intolerance" of western imperialists and portraying the event as a success of "epic scale". The mastermind of the strategy was most likely head of the Iranian National Security Council Saeed Jalili, who believes, based on the axiom attributed to the German strategist Carl von Clausewitz, that the best defense is offense. The method of propaganda designed to turn the truth on its head so unabashedly also might have been borrowed from a German political strategist who took the approach: the bigger the lie, the more the people will believe it.
Some Iranian journalists and political activists questioned Ahmadinezhad's speech. They felt Iran was humiliated by the event. A reporter asked Rahim-Moshaei, the president's trusted advisor, why he gave speeches that resulted in humiliation for Iran. "What a strange question," Rahim-Moshaei retorted. "There was a time when [we were so isolated] we were not even allowed to attend conferences. Now we walk in, and others walk out; do you call this our isolation?"
Some in Iran saw Ahmadinezhad's fierce attacks on the West and Israel as a calculated measure to help him win in the June 12 presidential elections. This may well be the case, if we assume Iranians are mesmerized by their president's reckless gallantry abroad. It is a fact that Ahmadinezhad has made foreign policy "successes" appear as his presidency's major achievement. It is absolutely necessary for him to look like a winner outside, as his economic and social policies inside have led to chaos and disappointment domestically.
The Geneva speech could also have been meant to rally the Arab street behind Iran by suggesting that Arab rulers were too cowardly to speak out against Israel. The more Arab governments rally against Iranian policies in the region, the more Ahmadinezhad relies on the Arab street.
We may also point to the president's pressing need to be constantly in the limelight. Yet his deep anti-Israel angst seems to reflect more than skin-deep political calculations and may require a psychological analysis. The environment where Ahmadinezhad grew up, meaning Iran under the Shah, was largely free of anti-Israel sentiments. The top leaders of the revolution, who had previously cut their teeth on the politics of Lebanon, brought home to Iran anti-Israel sentiments prevalent in Arab countries.
But Ahmadinezhad was too young at the time to be among them. So the question remains as to how he developed his anti-Israel fervor. There is no reference to such feelings or activities in his short autobiography. He grew up in a village near a small town in the desert. However, an accusation made by Mehdi Khaza'li, the progeny of the prominent Ayatollah Ahmad Khaza'li, may shed some light on Ahmadinezhad's psychosis.
Khaz'ali claims that Ahmadinezhad's real family name is "Saboorchian," a Jewish name that he changed to "Ahmadinezhad". Khazali, naming a few other prominent leaders of the Islamic Republic as new converts to Islam from Judaism, questions whether a Jewish cabal has crept in and taken over the revolutionary government! As outlandish as Khazali's claim seems to be, it has gone unchallenged. If there is any shred of truth in it, then we can see Ahmadinezhad's fierce anti-Israel sentiment under a different light. Could he be just another convert unsure of his newly acquired identity, resorting to extreme measures to prove himself? Could he be the watered down, modern equivalent of Tomas de Torquemada?
No matter what the motive, many Iranian analysts believe their president's uncontrollable rage and hatred expressed in public are helping rather than hurting Israel; the Durban II conference just provided another piece of evidence. These days, a saying attributed to an Israeli general is making the rounds among Iranians: "If Ahmadinezhad is not on the Israeli payroll, he should be."- Published 7/5/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Rasool Nafisi teaches the sociology of development and Middle Eastern studies at Strayer University. He is a political consultant focusing on Iran. His latest work (coauthored) is "The Rise of Pasdaran" about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Rand Corporation, 2009).
Undiplomatic, but substantially correct
The words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad at the Durban II anti-racism conference about Israel and its racism may have shocked many of the delegations attending that meeting in Geneva a few weeks ago, but they were in fact tame in comparison with what the international community in general and Israel in particular could have expected from him.
Absent from his speech were the usual words about the imminent destruction of Israel. Come to think of it, harsh and critical as Ahmadinezhad was in his references to Israel, they have to be viewed against the backdrop of his recent pronouncement that he is willing to accept a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict if the Palestinians accept the same. Obviously, the Iranian president was alluding to the acceptance of such a solution by all Palestinians, Hamas included. This is indeed a big "if", and much will depend on forging an operational consensus among the Palestinians in favor of a two-state solution.
Be that though as it may, the Durban II conference was convened to review progress in fighting racism since the 2001 Durban l conference, with a view to adopting more effective measures and policies. Durban l was hypercritical of Israel and its policies toward the Arab minority within its borders. Let's look again, then, at the words of the Iranian leader and decide whether he actually deviated that much from historical propositions related to the creation of Israel or from the theme of the anti-racism conference.
For starters, what gave his 30-minute speech added spice was the fact that it was delivered on the eve of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, a very solemn occasion for all Jewish people of whom millions perished at the hands of the Nazi regime in World War ll. Ahmadinezhad, on this occasion, said the Holocaust became a "pretext" by western countries to uproot the Palestinian people from their homeland and turn their country into a "Jewish" state. He did not deny the Holocaust.
Now, there is little doubt that the 1917 Balfour declaration, calling for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was partly motivated by providing a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. That declaration had a clear caveat that such a homeland should not be created at the expense of the Arab majority in the country. Yet if the declaration set in motion a potential series of events, the Holocaust made that an unstoppable wave that ended up with the creation of Israel, exactly at the expense of Palestinians.
Perhaps Ahmadinezhad's choice of words when he said the Holocaust was used as a "pretext" for uprooting the Palestinian people was what annoyed many western capitals. Had he said only that the Holocaust helped trigger western policy to give the Jewish people a slice of Palestine, there may have been less hostility to his address. But Ahmadinezhad's assertion that the creation of Israel rendered the Arab population homeless is an historical fact that cannot be denied. Again, had the Iranian leader used more diplomatic language to say what he wanted to say, there would have been fewer raised eyebrows at the conference.
The most controversial language used by Ahmadinezhad was in his description of Israel as "the most cruel and repressive racist regime". This is a judgment that some countries and peoples would agree with and others would differ with vehemently. What is pertinent and relevant though is whether Israeli legislation and practices are actually racist.
It is no secret that Israel proclaims itself as a "Jewish state". As a matter of fact, the Jews of Israel are not one race but belong to different races, some from Europe, others from Africa and Asia. What bind the Israeli people together are Judaism and Zionism. This makes the Jews of Israel a multiracial people rather than a uni-race nation. The crux of the problem is that Israel, in fact and law, discriminates against non-Jews across the board, starting with the "right of return" that bestows Israeli citizenship on any Jew who immigrates to its soil. The discrimination against non-Jews is lengthy and cuts across all facets of life in Israel, be they political, social or economic.
International human rights standards reject the concept of nations based on religious or ethnic origin. There can be no denying that Israel's laws and practices discriminate between its own citizens on the basis of religion and this fact alone puts the Jewish state in the dock of international human rights law. As a matter of fact, practically all international treaty bodies are hypercritical of Israel's discriminatory policies and laws. This fact makes Israel a "repressive" state with regard to non-Jews since it denies them equal treatment.
Against this backdrop, Ahmadinezhad may have erred in his choice of words and their hostile tone but not in terms of substance. Had he been more diplomatic, he may have survived his appearance at the Durban II conference with much less acrimony.- Published 7/5/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Waleed Sadi is a former Jordanian ambassador to Turkey and the UN and other international organizations in Geneva. He is currently a columnist for the Jordan Times and Al Rai newspapers.
A bitter and divisive farce
Racism, xenophobia, religious persecution, homophobia and other forms of intolerance continue to plague the human condition in the twenty-first century and it is a positive step when the United Nations takes the lead to curb such intolerance. The first attempt at the UN Anti-Racism conference, however, ended in abject failure in 2001 in Durban when some delegates tried to introduce language defining Zionism as racism. Delegates re-convened in April 2009 in Geneva to reflect on the progress made in countering racism and related intolerance since that Durban conference.
Unfortunately, Geneva failed once again to achieve its own objectives. The first failure was to have this anti-racism conference run by some of the world's worst human rights violators--Libya and Iran--an absurdity that only the UN could achieve. The way was then paved for Israel to once more be the target while the human rights records of the likes of Tripoli and Tehran could escape the glare of public attention. Recognizing the direction the Geneva conference was taking, states like the US, Israel, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and New Zealand all boycotted. If one adds to these the 30 states that walked out while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad was on the podium, the conference lost its universality and with it, its credibility.
The second mistake was to have Ahmadinezhad speak. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed regret that the conference had been misused by the Iranian president for political purposes. What did he expect--that Ahmadinezhad was going to make use of the opportunity to speak the message of peace, tolerance, understanding and compassion? In order to save his bacon, the good secretary-general stated that before the speech he met with Ahmadinezhad and urged him to give a balanced and constructive contribution to the conference. If anything, this statement only exposes the secretary-general's naivete and provides a good argument why he should only remain at the helm of the world body for one term.
The Iranian president predictably used this international platform afforded to him to attack Israel, referring to it as racist. He also spoke of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy, thus echoing such anti-Semitic texts as the Twelve Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The fact that those who did not walk out during his tirade cheered him on, proved the hapless Ban Ki-moon correct when he said that the Iranian president's speech was used "to accuse, divide and even incite". Spot on, Mr. Secretary-General, but pity you did not see this coming.
Ahmadinezhad's speech set the tone for the duration of the conference, with the Syrian and Qatari representatives talking about Israeli racism, while other Muslim leaders wanted to criminalize insults to Islam. Politely forgotten in this discourse were two important points. First, that Muslims insult their own religion by morphing their peaceful and beautiful faith into one preaching hatred against the other. Second, that Muslim leaders manipulate the articles of faith in order to cling to power while oppressing their fellow Muslim citizens.
Like Durban, Geneva proved to be a bitter and divisive farce, far from curbing intolerance and acting as a vehicle to bring humanity together. All it did was appeal to the most base and primitive instinct--hatred of the other. Geneva proved that the UN cannot be trusted to promote the cause of tolerance and non-discrimination when it is hijacked by some of the world's most vicious human rights violators. Clearly a new structure is necessary to promote universal human rights norms. - Published 7/5/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Professor Hussein Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
Arab peace or Durban war?
Gerald M. Steinberg
The recently concluded Durban Review Conference held in Geneva was in many ways the opposite of the 2001 United Nations World Conference on Racism. The 2001 version marked the revival of the soft war to demonize Israel and Jewish sovereignty. The governmental part of the conference adopted a text that singled out Israel for condemnation--the only country to be specifically mentioned. The United States and Israel walked out in protest, but the Europeans stayed, providing overall legitimacy.
In contrast, the preparations and pressures that preceded Durban II, including decisions by ten countries against attending, meant that this follow-up meeting was largely neutralized before it began. For Israel, this was an important political success in which common sense overcame the obsessive anti-Zionist rhetoric characteristic of many human rights frameworks.
Although Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad's speech and the resulting protests provided the dominant images, these were anti-climactic. Following the original Durban conference, Israeli officials and leaders of Jewish organizations started preparations to prevent similar defeats. Shortly after Libya and Iran were selected as the chairs for Durban II (reflecting the power of the Islamic bloc in the UN), Canada pulled out, citing the anti-Semitic nature of the first conference.
Later, as sections of the draft text were tabled that sought to extend the demonization of 2001, Israel and then the US--led by President Barack Obama--followed Canada. Italy was the fourth country to pull out, raising the fear of a full withdrawal by Europe and a delegitimized conference. Responsibility for the draft document was suddenly transferred from the Libyan chair to a UN official, who removed attacks against Israel and clauses designed to curtail free speech and protect Islam from criticism. But this was too late, and others withdrew.
A more significant difference between the two conferences was in the non-governmental organization sphere. In 2001, a forum of 1,500 NGOs featured attacks against Jewish participants, anti-Semitic slurs, marches under the "Zionism is racism" banner and a declaration that used terms like apartheid and allegations of war crimes. The declaration, which also called for a strategy of boycotts and court actions against Israeli officials ("lawfare"), was rejected by UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson but served as the blueprint for NGO activity that followed.
In contrast, many of these NGOs were absent in the 2009 conference and those that did participate were largely ineffective. UN officials decided against another NGO Forum, while the Ford Foundation and the Canadian government, which had paid for much of the 2001 NGO Forum, refused funding this time. NGO superpowers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International kept a very low profile in Geneva and the "civil society forum" and "Israel review conference" were sparsely attended. In the UN sessions, a small number of NGOs with European-government funding were present, such as Badil, which continued to promote "right of return" claims that negate a viable two-state solution.
In parallel, over 20 Jewish NGOs, in alliances with groups representing victims from Darfur, Rwanda, Iran, Tibet, India and elsewhere also held side events. These activities reflected a determination not to allow a repetition of the one-sided 2001 scenario on the streets or in the official proceedings and to restore the universal moral foundation of human rights in place of the attacks on Israel. This was clearly a very different conference from the 2001 event.
At the end, UN officials such as Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay tried to portray the review conference a success, but this was hardly convincing. Ahmadinezhad's performance reinforced the image of a circus atmosphere, far from the sobering discussion of combating racism that the UN had sought to promote. As a result, the prospect of yet another Durban conference is unlikely to gain much support.
Instead, narrative wars using the language of human rights and international law will be fought in mini-Durbans such as the meetings of the UN Human Rights Council. President Obama has announced that the US would return to these sessions, after the Bush administration condemned this framework as counterproductive. But if discussion of main human rights abuses continues to be vetoed by the various governments, and Israel again becomes the obsessive focus, with the participation of the NGO network, the American return is likely to be short-lived.
The resulting damage goes beyond undermining the moral foundations of human rights and has a direct impact on the prospects for the Arab Peace Initiative and a two-state solution. The demonization of Zionism and Israel, particularly through terms such as "apartheid", is entirely incompatible with mutual acceptance and recognition of legitimacy. Such terms, when used by Saudi, Egyptian, Syrian and other Arab officials in the preparatory conferences for Durban II or in other frameworks and boycott campaigns, suggest that the API is not serious. To demonstrate that the long period of de-legitimization has ended, the language of the Durban strategy must disappear.- Published 7/5/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is executive director of NGO Monitor and chair of the Political Science Department at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv.
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